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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions in Rhode Island

2013-JAN: Organized groups in support
of, or opposition to, marriage equality.
Our assessment.

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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2013-JAN-14: Organized religious opposition to marriage equality:

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence has given his support for a referendum to allow voters to decide whether or not to legalize SSM in Rhode Island. This is a curious response, since a September poll showed that the majority of voters in Rhode Island favor SSM by a margin of 22 percentage points. Previous experience in other states have shown that -- even with extensive fear-based negative ads -- a referendum with such a margin would almost certainly result in the legalization of SSM. It would seem that Bishop Tobin either does not trust public opinion polls or feels that the Legislature is certain to pass a bill legalizing SSM unless a referendum route is chosen.

Bishop Tobin and other conservative religious and civic leaders from over 1000 organizations in the state have formed the "Faith Alliance to Preserve the Sanctity of Marriage as Established by God" coalition. Other members are Pastor Luis Rodriguez. President of the Hispanic Ministerial Association; Iglesia de la Comunidad; Pastor Luis Suarez, Iglesia Nueva Generacion; Pastor Santos Escobar, Inglesia Vida Abundante UMC; Ron L’Heureux, Founder of Exodus 18; and Darrell Lee, Founder of Building Cities on God Ministries.

The stated position and purpose of the coalition is to:

"... safeguard God’s covenant and definition of marriage. ... [It is] neither judging nor condemning gay, lesbian, or transgender individuals."

Lee said:

"The state, by law, only has the right to ensure the 'legal' administration of God’s covenant of marriage; it is not authorized to change, amend, or revise God’s definition of marriage. Marriage has been established and defined by God as a spiritual union between a man and a woman, and it is not to be altered by mankind or its government."

We are unaware of a law in Rhode Island that limits the role of government as Lee has said.

Pastor Rodriguez said:

"Unfortunately, there is a tendency to logically or purposefully associate matters of homosexuality with same sex marriage. While the former may be a right of personal choice or innate sexual orientation, the latter is a privilege ordained by God and administered by the state. Once this distinction is clearly articulated through our collective efforts, we are confident that the people of Rhode Island will strongly urge their state legislators to hear the voice of the people."

The coalition appears to believe that there should be no such thing as a civil marriage, and that the principle of separation of church and state should not exist in the U.S. It seems that they want the U.S. to be a theocracy governed by their interpretation of the Bible.

A citizen of Rhode Island added a posting to an article in Go Local that discussed the coalition. She/he made a very generous offer:

"If Darrell Lee can point to the statute in Rhode Island General Laws that states, as he said, that RI only has the ability to ensure the 'administration of God’s covenant' and cannot change 'God’s definition of marriage' then I will personally donate $5,000 to the anti-gay Knights of Columbus to help them in their pro-discrimination campaign." 1

We have been unable to find any evidence that Lee accepted the challenge.

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2013-JAN-14: Organized religious support for marriage equality:

Governor Lincoln Chafee (I), top labor officials, and some religious leaders formed a coalition called "Rhode Islanders United for Marriage." Poliglot reports that the group :

"... includes several religious, labor and civic groups including the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, which represents more than 100 clergy and faith leaders from 13 different denominations; the Rhode Island AFL-CIO; local chapters of the National Education Association (NEA); the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); and Rhode Island Progressive Democrats.

Its goal is to promote the SSM legislation introduced to the Legislature earlier in the month.

Governor Chafee (D) referred to the legacy of Roger Williams who founded Rhode Island as a region of religious tolerance. He said that all couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex should be able to marry. He urged legislators to have Rhode Island join with all of the other New England states who have already legalizing marriage equality. He said:

"It is time to honor and affirm that legacy. Call the roll for Roger Williams. Call the roll for history and I'll be happy to sign it." 2

Passing a marriage-equality law one of his political priorities, He said:

"Rhode Island has been engaged in a lively experiment in freedom and tolerance for 350 years, and the inclusion of all our friends and neighbors under the aegis of civil marriage is the logical extension of Roger Williams’ bold stand for liberty. I am proud to stand with Rhode Islanders United for Marriage in calling for the General Assembly to send marriage equality legislation for my signature without delay, so that I can finally sign it, and we can better live up to our founder’s inclusive vision."

Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, released a statement saying.

"With more legislative sponsors and supporters than ever before, we believe we can win passage of this important civil rights act in 2013." 3

Rev. Don Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, issued a statement noting that the existing right of conservative faith groups to discriminate against lesbians, gays and bisexuals would be protected by the bill: He said:

"There is broad diversity within communities of faith on this issue. That’s why this bill includes a number of commonsense exemptions that affirm a religious institution’s control over marriage eligibility within its particular faith’s tradition. No church or clergy would be required by this law to perform or recognize same-sex marriages if they go against the teachings of their particular faith."

Rev. Gene Dyszlewski, chair of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, pointed out that the current law discriminates against churches or religions that recognize same-sex relationships and who want to marry loving, committed same-sex couples in their sanctuary. He commented:

"Giving all Rhode Islanders full access to marriage is an opportunity to remove roadblocks to pastoral care for those faith traditions that welcome and affirm same-sex relationships. ... Christ welcomed all to His table and so, as faith leaders for equality, we hope to walk on the path He set for us -– living by his example -– and affirming His commitment to tolerance and justice."

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2013-JAN-31: The Rhode Island State Council of Churches endorses same-sex marriage:

The Council, which represents over 300 churches, issued a statement calling on the General Assembly to pass the bill legalizing SSM. Rev. Don Anderson, the council's executive minister, said:

"We believe this is an issue of tolerance and religious liberty. While there is broad diversity within communities of faith on this issue, many traditions choose to welcome same-sex relationships to the covenant of marriage." 4

The article in the Providence Journal produced some interesting comments from their readership. They show the diversity of interpretation of the six "clobber passages" about same-gender sexual behavior in the Bible:

  • Dave Lori Imondi wrote:

    "Newsflash...GOD does trump everyone else. It is He who created marriage and it was for a man and a woman. He says homosexuality is an abomination, not people. Those are God's words."

    • David J Bartlett responded:

      "I suppose I would have to believe in your God to care whether those are his/her/it's words or not. Also, if you are referring to the Bible as God's words, your particular translation would meet with a lot of disagreement. Fortunately, civil law, including CIVIL marriage is not made on the basis of your, or anyone else', religious beliefs."

  • Bertram Wallace wrote:

    "God's Word says,'no,no no'!"

    • David J. Bartlett responded:

      "Thankfully, this is civil marriage we're talking about so any mention of God's alleged word is irrelevant."

    • Barry Aneda also responded:

      "Bertram then do not get married to man! But let others live their lives as they see fit just as you. Just because you do not believe in same sex marriage does not mean others should not be allowed that right!" 4

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Our assessment (Bias alert):

Clearly, if one holds the near universal belief among Christians that God is a Trinity of three persons in one Godhead, then:

  • The "Faith Alliance to Preserve the Sanctity of Marriage as Established by God" coalition says that God defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

  • The chair of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality says that Jesus supports marriage equality for all loving, committed couples -- both same-sex and opposite-sex.


  • Either God and Jesus hold contrasting beliefs, which throws the concept of the Trinity into doubt, or

  • Either the Alliance or the Coalition is holding false beliefs about marriage equality.

I suspect that the Alliance may be holding the wrong beliefs about God's design for the family. Throughout the Bible there are many marriages between one man and multiple women. Only one of them was condemned by God. That was Solomon who allegedly married 700 wives and had hundreds of concubines. He was only condemned because he married many women who were Pagan, not Jewish.

It is a pity that, according to a pilot study that this web site conducted, individuals cannot assess the will of God through prayer. That would settle the conflict very easily.

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This topic continues in the next essay ...

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Religious Leaders Rally to Oppose Same Sex Marriage," Go Local, 2013-JAN-14, at:
  2. David Klepper, "RI coalition rallies support for gay marriage," Boston Globe, 2013-JAN-14, at:
  3. John Riley, "Rhode Island gay-marriage supporters launch new campaign," Poliglot, 2013-JAN-14, at:
  4. Randal Edgar, "RI State Council of Churches endorses same-sex marriage," Providence Journal, 2013-JAN-3, at:

Copyright © 2011 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-JAN-14
Latest update: 2013-APR-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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